Synthetic Biology: An Open Source Model of Bioengineering?

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From Humanitarian-FOSS Project Development Site

Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology is a combination of science and engineering in an attempt to create biological systems and functions. In some sense, we cannot have a true understanding of biology until we are able to synthesize novel or existing DNA such that it performs a function that we specify. Synthetic biology is an attempt at exactly that. A DNA Synthesizer is a large machine that is able to take DNA sequences as input and output actual DNA. As stated in an interview with Drew Endy, because such machines are expensive, companies such as the the Hong Kong based Tech Dragon take orders of DNA sequences and send people the sequenced DNA.

Synthetic biology is important because biological engineering, once mastered, can lead to many important developments in the field of science. Theoretically any organism with any function could be genetically engineered, given the appropriate knowledge. One example given in Endy's lecture was of organisms engineered to change color based on light exposure, generating a biological photograph. In time, we may be able to engineer organisms that can be used for medical purposes.

Open Source Licensing

Not only can open source licensing help in this field, it is almost necessary. As Endy pointed out in the interview, each new development in Synthetic biology is individually patented and licensed. If programmers had to pay royalties every time they used a function in a programming language, or every time they utilized a section of code, even trivial programs would be extremely expensive to produce. Synthetic biology has a chance to be extremely influential and fast developing, but until important discoveries in the field are available under a free license, progress in the field will be slow. Given an open source model, each new development will feed off of previous developments. What is lost in profit for individuals will be made up in benefit to the community.

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